The year 2009 was a game-changing one for the landscape of rugby, and not purely because of the IOC’s momentous decision to vote the sport into the Olympics.
It was also then that the existing Tri-Nations teams – South Africa, New Zealand and Australia – invited Argentina to join them in a new four-team tournament, which, from 2012, was known as The Rugby Championship.
Los Pumas had shown their competitiveness at the top-end of international rugby two years before in claiming the bronze medal at Rugby World Cup 2007 and were ranked sixth in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini at the time. So it made plenty of sense to bring them into the fold and make the competition even more appealing.
While Argentina have struggled to make as big an impression as they would have liked since then, no one can dispute the competition is all the better for having them in it.
Here we take a look at some of the milestone moments in the 10 years they’ve been involved at this level.
LOS PUMAS MAKE TRC DEBUT
Argentina’s debut in the Rugby Championship came against South Africa and was played at Newlands in Cape Town, on 18 August, 2012. It ended in a 27-6 win for the Springboks. Zane Kirchner, Marcell Coetzee and Bryan Habana scored tries for the hosts, while Los Pumas’ points came from a pair of Juan Martín Hernández penalties.
FIRST POINTS GAINED
Argentina’s historic first home match was played at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, Mendoza – the venue for this weekend’s encounter against Australia – and ended in a 16-16 draw, thus providing Los Pumas with their first points in the competition. However, it could have been so much better for Los Pumas who held a 16-6 lead midway through the second half after a try from Santiago Fernández try and two penalties and a conversion from the boot of Martín Rodríguez.
WINNING AT THE 18TH ATTEMPT
After two winless campaigns, Argentina decided to replace Santiago Phelan with Daniel Hourcade as head coach but the desired change in fortunes wasn’t immediate. Having lost their first five games in the 2014 tournament, Los Pumas looked down and out in their final fixture against Australia and destined for another defeat as they trailed by 14 points early in the first half. However, tries either side of the break from Leonardo Senatore and Juan Imhoff and 11 points from the boot of Nicolas Sanchez saw them end the campaign on the highest of highs with a 21-17 win.
Juan Imhoff became the first player to score a hat-trick against South Africa and, remarkably, is still the only player to achieve this feat against the Springboks, when Argentina’s long wait for Rugby Championship win finally came to an end at Kings Park in Durban in 2015. Imhoff’s historic treble followed on from Marcelo Bosch’s second-minute score and all four tries were converted by Juan Martín Hernández. Hernández and Bosch also kicked a penalty apiece as Argentina ran out 37-25 winners.
NOT LAST, AT LAST!
Argentina have been perennial wooden spoonists whenever four teams have participated in a full-blown Rugby Championship. The only time they have avoided propping up the table was in 2015 when a shortened version of the tournament took place due to the Rugby World Cup later that year. In that instance, the teams only played each other once and Los Pumas’ win over South Africa in Durban was enough for the Springboks to finish below them.
JAGUARES JOIN SUPER RUGBY
Argentina’s involvement in the Rugby Championship was conditional on Argentina’s best players being based at home rather than overseas, which ultimately led to the creation of Jaguares. Jaguares were entered into the Super Rugby competition in 2016 and enjoyed their best finish three years later when they were runners-up to the Crusaders in 2019. A reformatting of Super Rugby, post-COVID, resulted in them being cut from the competition in 2021.
LEGEND LEDESMA BECOMES HEAD COACH
Mario Ledesma, one of Argentina’s heroes of Rugby World Cup 2007, stepped up from his position as head coach of Jaguares to take on the Los Pumas’ head coach job in August 2018 following Daniel Hourcade’s resignation a few months earlier. The hooker’s first game in charge was against South Africa in the opening round of Rugby Championship 2018 and ended in a 34-21 defeat. In 33 games as Los Pumas head coach (all competitions), Ledesma’s Argentina won eight, drew three and lost 22.
BEATING THE ALL BLACKS
By far and away the biggest success of Ledesma’s Los Pumas’ coaching career and that of Argentina as a test nation was their historic 25-15 victory over the All Blacks in Sydney on 14 November, 2020. It was Argentina’s first win in 30 attempts against the All Blacks dating back to the first encounter in 1985. What made it all the more remarkable was that it came 13 months after they’d last entered the test arena due to COVID-related issues. “We’ve been through hell,” said a jubilant Ledesma after the match.
Nicolas Sanchez scored all 25 of Argentina’s points.
NEW BOY IS OLD WARRIOR
Carlos Muzzio made history in Port Elizabeth in August last year when he won his first cap as a second-half replacement against world champions South Africa one week short of his 37th birthday. In doing so, he became the oldest test debutant to exclusively play for Argentina.
SANCHEZ EYES HALF-CENTURY
Argentina’s record points-scorer has left an indelible mark on the Rugby Championship and will become the first player from his country to make a half-century of appearance in the competition if he plays in every match of this year’s tournament. The fly-half has scored 358 Rugby Championship points from 44 matches.
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